What is Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic Neuropathy
One of the hallmark conditions that can occur with diabetes is neuropathy, a misfire in the nerves that impacts feeling and function. There are several types that can affect your body in different ways, but one version — autonomic neuropathy — affects the background functions of your body. That makes getting an accurate diagnosis critical.

What is autonomic neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy, also called dysautonomia, affects the nerves that control your involuntary bodily functions. When these nerves are damaged it impacts your blood pressure, temperature control, digestion, and bladder function.

The problems occur because the nerve damage makes it harder for your brain to send messages to your organs and parts of the autonomic nervous system, including your blood vessels, heart, and sweat glands.

What symptoms are common?

The symptoms you experience are directly tied to the part of your autonomic nervous system affected by the neuropathy. Pay attention to these symptoms, and talk with your doctor if they appear.

  • Dizziness and fainting when standing
  • Urinary problems, including incontinence, difficulty starting or sensing a full bladder, and an inability to empty your bladder.
  • Digestive problems, including feeling full after only a few bites, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and heartburn.
  • Lack of signs of low blood sugar, such as shaking.
  • Sweating too much or too little, making it harder to regulate your body temperature.
  • Difficulty adjusting your eyes from light to dark.

How is autonomic neuropathy treated?

There are several things you can do to treat your symptoms and minimize the impact. Consider these steps:

  • If you experience nausea or feel full after eating small amounts, work with a dietician to plan your meals.
  • Take medications to accelerate your digestion and reduce diarrhea.

Preventive steps

Slowing the progression of autonomic neuropathy is possible, and it can greatly minimize your symptoms. To limit the impact of the condition as much as you can, follow these tips:

  • Control your blood sugar. Keep it between 80-130 mg/dL before eating and under 180 mg/dL after.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Get appropriate treatment for any autoimmune disease.
  • Control your blood pressure, keeping it below 130/80.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly, shooting for at least 30 minutes of exercise five times weekly. Biking, running, walking, or swimming are good options.

Making a few lifestyle changes can also lead to improvements:

  • Posture changes: Stand up slowly to decrease dizziness. Tense your leg muscles when standing to increase your blood pressure.
  • Elevate the bed: If you have low blood pressure, raise the head of your bed by approximately 4 inches.
  • Digestion: Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Increase fluids. Choose low-fat, high-fiber options, and restrict lactose and gluten.

If you suspect you have autonomic neuropathy, consult your doctor immediately, particularly if your diabetes isn’t well controlled. Even more, you’ll likely be screened for autonomic neuropathy every year after you receive your diagnosis if you have Type 2 Diabetes.

Contact the Amputation Prevention Centers of America if you have any questions.